“Nah, it’s not dangerous! It’s the start of the game. They can’t kill us off yet! Come on, trust me! All I’m gonna do is look…”
Famous last words, Rincewind, famous last words. Well, last words for that idiot at the Fool’s Guild who shall not be mentioned for the sake of the plot, at any rate.
Death is missing. You know, tall guy, black robe, scythe, eyes that glow the colour of infinity (duck-egg blue, in case you were wondering), face like… death. As if an anthropomorphic personification can have an existential crisis and leave in a fit of depressive angst. And have a butler. Well, I’ll have you know that Alfred is an excellent butler, but more on that sort of thing later.
Death has decided that being the personification of the end of all life and rider of the Pale Horse (Binky) is a bit of a drag: Everyone hates him; his incredible memory (it works forwards into the future as well as backwards into the past, you know) means he can’t ever leave the job behind and enjoy the better things in li–- er, enjoy things on his time off; his sartorial choices are by necessity quite limited; and it’s not as if anyone considers him to be a convivial guest at parties. So he decides to hoof it – you know, take a holiday without leaving a forwarding address – let the job take care of itself for a change. But unfortunately that’s not how things work, here at the edges of probability. For death to carry on happening, there must actually be a Death. It’s somewhat… expected, you know, as in monarchy; one needs an actual monarch in order to have a monarchy, even though they aren’t necessarily required to be in your living room, in person, hogging the remote and demanding constant cups of tea.
With a distinct lack of Death comes a complete lack of any form of, um, death (sorry, I know, but I ran out of ideas) and it’s rather like taking the afterlife on the installment plan. You do actually die, but you don’t end up going anywhere. You’re still there, in the same body that’ll end up smelling <strike>bad</strike> worse and losing little important bits if you aren’t very, very careful. And being dea– er, differently alive just means that there are far fewer job opportunities, and a lot less floor space in the average available plot for sale or rent.
This is where Rincewind comes in, grousing sarcastically all the way (there’s a Sarcasm button between the Talk and the Goodbye button, so I meant that literally). It gets a little bit annoying, but if you try to forget the fact that it should be a Pratchettian tour de force and simply enjoy it as a point-and-click adventure game, it really is quite a lot of fun. There’s the Fountain of Youth, from the earlier books, St Ungulant in the desert from Small Gods, various Unseen University jokes from several wizard books, a lot of Djelibeybi [lit.: child of the Djel] references from Pyramids, the Smell of Foul Ole Ron – not reading a small volume of poetry or sporting its own driver’s licence, alas – and Mrs Cake, who hasn’t received a letter from anyone in years owing to featuring on a codicil to the old Royal Mail motto.
Your job is to go and seek out… Death, and bring him back so that the circle of life (no, turn that music off. Stop it) can continue.
Of course, Ponder is all wrong, the Librarian doesn’t step in and save the day so much as make a horse’s ass of himself, and Susan is just a small child swinging in Death’s garden instead of a main protagonist, but it’s a Discworld adventure game, and that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s just a bit disappointing that they went to so much trouble to make the game, yet couldn’t add the tiniest bit of effort to get things right, but at least the graphics are vastly improved.
Oops! … Oh, the animation budget’s increased at least!”
“Well of course that’s a good thing! It means they haven’t spent as much on plot, doesn’t it? They’ve probably halved the number of insane object puzzles for a start. Sorry, I mean clever lateral thinking exercises, of course.”
And that lack of focus on the plot is where Discworld 2 does disappoint. It’s clear that the developers did read the outlines of the three or so Pratchett books that they based the game on (Reaper Man, Soul Music, and Moving Pictures, to say nothing of cameos from The Last Continent and parts of Small Gods, and wherever Casanunda's been hiding out), but that seems to be all they read. There are no clever little in-jokes or silly quotes where you least expect them, and no storylines based on characterisations that you know and love. Oh, the little shop from Soul Music is there, and the old lady does have a crossbow aimed at your stomach, but you can tell her heart’s not in it. You couldn’t sink into the Ankh if you had weights tied to your feet (even if you were the poor proverbial cat who was tossed in for being curious somewhere in the Shades), but there’s definitely something missing. The humour is geared more toward the run of the mill, absurdist humour that one can find on any Channel Four show, and each joke is labelled, just in case you missed it. The humour is heavy handed and self-consciously silly, as far away from Pratchett’s puns and footnotes and asides of world-shaking wisdom crossed with screaming hilarity as it’s possible to get. As though they used Discworld merely as a background, instead of showcasing it in all its insane, hilarious, dark glory, and then they tried adding more crazy from all kinds of different sources to fill it in. And the game as a whole suffers for that, I think.
“Aren’t you gonna miss all this stuff when they stop making these games? Aren’t you gonna miss it all?”
Quite so. I do already, actually. Now will you please shut up so I can continue with the review? Ok? Thank-you ever so much.
Most of Discworld 2’s humour involves simple fourth-wall breakage of this kind, usually while Rincewind turns and looks out of the screen at you in a particularly knowing way. He does look a little too much like Eric Idle, too, to make matters worse. There’s even a Gratuitous Monty Python Scene thrown in (their words, not mine). Is Rincewind heavier than a duck? Who knows? His acting is certainly quite wooden, though (hem hem, whack fol-a-diddle, &c).
Never fear, though. Once you’ve been dragged through Holy Wood, Death’s domain, Fourecks and Dibbler’s dirty marketing machine, you’ll just feel like re-reading the whole Discworld saga from scratch, smiling all the way. And that’s far from being a bad thing. And it’s a really good adventure game, may I add. No, ignore those silly vultures. No, I can’t possibly have stolen anything from them. That’s not my camel, and I don’t know where it came from. Smile and nod and maybe it’ll go away.
A small point of information on the archive:
With the help of The Fifth Horseman, Abandonia at last has a working rip of Discworld 2. It may not have sound, or most of the cutscenes, but we do have the full version in the ISO Cellar if you really feel strongly about getting the full gaming experience. (Deioh! De-ei-ei-oh! Daylight come and we wanna go home!) Run DW2.BAT for best results.
Notes on the finer running of this excellent piece of software:
Halfway through the game, you’ll get a screen that asks for the second disc. Stop, save the game, and take a break. From now on, unless you run this fix, all the characters will say is !!!NULL STRING!!! and you need to run a simple fix in order to make the game make sense (albeit less unintentionally hilarious).
Inside the game directory there should be a subdirectory named "null_string_fix" and a "dialog_fix.zip" inside that one. Unpack its contents to the game directory and confirm overwrite. (Save the original file, ENGLISH.IDX – the one that will be overwritten – in a separate place, though, in case you ever want to play the first half of the game again. Guess who forgot to do that? Haha, got it in one. Don’t worry, though: there is a backup of the original file in the null_string_fix directory, for us blondes). Then, enjoy the rest of the game!